Divorce will likely be one of the most difficult periods of your life. It is an emotionally and financially draining process that can be exacerbated when you are dealing with an uncooperative spouse and you simply do not have the means to hire an attorney.
At the most basic level, presently just filing for divorce costs $225 in North Carolina and $150 in South Carolina. Additionally, attorneys charge an hourly rate that often exceeds $250 per hour. If you read my blog post about the cost of a divorce in North Carolina, you know that a divorce with other issues involved like child custody, equitable distribution, and child support can rack up legal fees into the thousands.
Maybe you don’t have that kind of money. Maybe you were blindsided by the divorce and don’t have access to your assets right now. I have seen these situations repeatedly in practicing law for more than a decade, first with traditional litigation and now exclusively with collaborative divorce. It pains me to see families hurt. I would never casually encourage divorce or flippantly tell someone they don’t need an attorney. But I understand that sometimes, it is virtually impossible to gather several thousand dollars to fight your case. What do you do?
If you are willing and able, there are some free and low-cost resources available that can help you get started and/or finish the process.
Look for a non-profit law firm or organization in your area that offers low-cost or pro bono work for family law cases. Both North and South Carolina, where I practice, have organizations that provide free services if you meet their income requirements. Legal Aid of North Carolina and South Carolina Legal Services hold free do-it-yourself clinics so you can learn how to do a simple divorce or file for child custody. You may find an organization in your state that will charge you a small fee for helping you with certain paperwork.
Connect with an attorney
Call the North Carolina Bar Association referral service to get a lower-cost initial consultation with a licensed attorney to get you started. Find a Family Law Clinic at a local law school to guide you in the process. You may be able to meet with an attorney for guidance on a specific issue so that you can do it yourself. There are limited representation attorneys, who provide legal services a la carte. Some attorneys represent family law clients pro bono, although it’s very hard to find one to do so because family law cases can be very involved and time-consuming.
File for Divorce Pro Se or Unrepresented
You can file for divorce without a lawyer to represent you, but this should be a last resort. You do not want to potentially lose out on alimony or equitable distribution claims because you did not ask for them before you got divorced. Find the Divorce Forms for your state listed below. Check your local library for treatises and rule books on state family law, but make sure to confirm that they are not out of date.
Legal Aid of North Carolina Simple Divorce Clinic via Facebook Live or Zoom, or call Legal Aid of North Carolina’s HelpLine at 1-866-219-5262.
South Carolina Legal Services Divorce Clinics’ dates and times are listed on its online calendar. Check the website to find one near you.
North Carolina Divorce Packet on the North Carolina courts website.
Self-Represented Litigant Simple Divorce Packet on the South Carolina courts website.
The Mecklenburg County Courthouse Self-Service Center has resources where you can fill out the paperwork there and file.
Call or go online to the North Carolina Bar Association referral service at 919-662-8574 to get an initial thirty-minute $50 consultation with an attorney just to get you started.
NCCU School of Law has a family law clinic if you are in the Triangle area.
Lindsey Dasher is the Managing Partner at Dasher Law PLLC